Aratus of Soli

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Aratus of Soli

(b. Soli, Cilicia, ca. 310 b.c.; d. ca. 240/239 b.c.)


Although we possess four anonymous “lives” and a biography by Suidas, we are poorly informed about Aratus’ life. The letters supposedly by him that are in the first life, edited by Westermann, are most probably spurious. Aratus went to Athens as a young man and there became acquainted with Stoicism. He then spent some time in Macedon at the court of Antigonus Gonatas (276–239 b.c.) and in Syria with Antiochus I. He is said to have prepared an edition of Homer’s Odyssey and of the Iliad. Aratus was the author of several poems that are now lost: Hymn to Pan, celebrating the marriage of Antigonus Gonatas to Phile, half sister of Antiochus; epideceia addressed to his friends (and one to his brother); Ostologia, which seem to have been poems on medical subjects; and Catalepton, a collection of poems form which Strabo quotes two hexameters . Two of his epigrams are in Anthologia Palatina (XI, 437; XII, 129).

Aratus’ only extant work is Phaenomena, a poem in 1,154 hexameters. After a prelude (lines 1–18) consisting of a hymn to Zeus, he describes the northern (19–320) and the southern (320–453) constellations. He refrains from giving an explanation of the planetary movements (454–461), apparently because of their complicated nature and the difficulty of calculating their conjunction (an allusion to the great year) . Next (462–558) Aratus describes the circles of the celestial sphere and then (559–757) deals with the calendar: the hours of the risings and settings of stars (559–732), the days of the lunar month (733–739), the seasons (740–751), and the Metonic cycle (752–757). The second part of the poem (758–1154) deals with weather signs and is an integral part of it even though some ancient commentators give it a separate title (Prognosis). After a transitional part (758–772), in which he again emphasizes the power of all-pervading Zeus, Aratus deals with the signs derived from the observation of the different celestial phenomena (the stars, the sun, etc.); he ends with a description of the signs that depend on terrestrial phenomena. He concludes his poem (1142–1154) with an invitation to observe all these signs during the whole year, certain that we will not, by doing so, reach unwarranted conclusions.

The Phaenomena became famous as soon as it was published, as may be seen from the epigrams that Callimachus (Anthologia Palatina IX, 507) and Leonidas of Tarentum (Anthologia Palatina IX, 25) dedicate to Aratus. The poem was translated into Latin by Cicero and by Germanicus; Avienus translated it in the fourth century, and there is extant a seventh-century translation into barbarous Latin. The Phaenomena is cited by many authors, both Greek and Latin, and remained fashionable until the sixteenth century, as may be seen by the numerous manuscripts that have come down to us. It possesses some literary value and is indebted mainly to Hesiod and Homer for vocabulary and syntax. Aratus’ adherence to Stoicism is patent throughout the poem, especially in the opening hymn to Zeus, who stands for the Stoic pantheistic divinity. From an astronomical standpoint the poem contains many errors, more than were in its source, the Phaenomena of Eudoxus of Cnidos. That this work of Eudoxus’ was the source for Aratus, at least for the first part of the poem, we know from the commentary that Hipparchus devoted to both works. Aratus’ source for the second part may have been the same or another work by Eudoxus, but a work by Theophrastus dealing with meteorology (now lost) has also been suggested. Two manuscripts now at the Vatican give the names of twenty-seven commentators on Aratus.


The most important editions of Aratus are those of E. Maass, Arati Phaenomena (Berlin, 1893; repr. 1955); and J. Martin, Arati Phaenomena (Florence, 1956); the latter contains an extensive commentary and a translation, both in French. For a translation into English, see that of G. R. Mair in the Loeb Classical Library’s Callimachus, Lycophron, Aratus (London, 1921). On Aratus’ life, text tradition, and influence, see J. Martin, Histoire du texte des Phénomènes d‘Aratos (Paris, 1956). The texts of the four lives and of Suidas’ biography are in A. Westermann, BIOGRAPHOI. Vitarum scriptores Graeci minores (Brunswick, 1845; repr. Amsterdam, 1964), pp. 52–61; see also Suidas, s.n. Aratus (A. Adler, ed.). For the commentaries and scholia, see E. Maass, Aratea(Berlin, 1892), and Commentariorum in Aratum reliquiae (Berlin, 1898; repr. 1958); and C. Manitius, Hipparchi in Arati et Eudoxi Phaenomena commentariorum libri tres (Leipzig, 1894). See also W. von Christ and W. Schmid, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, pt. 2, 1st half (Munich,1920), 163–167; G. Knaack, “Aratos,” no.6, in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie, II, pt. 1 (1894), cols. 391–399; F. Susemihl, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur in der Alexandrinerzeit, I (Leipzig, 1891), 284–299; and M. Erren, Die Phainomena des Aratos von Soloi (Wiesbaden, 1967).

L. TarÁn